"God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him" -Piper

In the first paper I argued for the reintroduction of Puritan theology in a postmodern world. I also argued that although we live in a postmodern world, the church cannot embrace a postmodern worldview. To this point I want to make a few important comments.

  • Firstly, the church needs to be relevant within a postmodern world.  The world will not revert back to the modernist period. Nor am I suggesting that we become modern day Puritans. Rather I am arguing for a dialogue with the theology of the Puritans.
  • Secondly, we need to find creative ways of doing church in a postmodern world in order to draw the postmodernist into the kingdom of God. I believe that grounding new believers in the theology of the Puritans will result in strong God- loving and God-fearing Christians.
  • Thirdly, and most importantly in our effort to be relevant to our culture and the postmodern world we cannot afford to water down the preaching of the gospel. Puritan theology in my opinion is the antidote to a weak and watered down gospel.

Their will be those who will argue that a Puritan theology is no longer relevant in a postmodern world on the grounds that it is not longer contextually relevant. Due to its theological formation from the sixteenth century onwards, it can no longer have any pastoral application to a postmodernist generation. Nor does its message have any value for our world today.

However, this is where I disagree with the above arguments. Puritan theology is tailor made to speak to any culture or generation because it is so biblically based. It is alive and full of practical biblical wisdom. I will argue over the next few months in my papers that Puritan theology is precisely what the church needs to preach. We are desperately in need of good sound biblical doctrine that roots believers in Christ. I am convinced that Puritan theology will stop the large fall out of disillusioned believes we have in the church due to people experiencing hardships, sufferings, disappointments and discouragement. Puritan theology is steeped in ways to help Christians live in an uncertain world filled with tragedy and human fragility. When Christians go through hardships and choose to see God as unfaithful and thus walk away from the faith, it is my firm belief this is due to a weak theological formation of their spirituality.

The issue is how we choose to convey their theology within a postmodern world. This is the critical point. I am not suggesting that we pull out the sermons of the Puritans and preach them verbatim. That would be suicidal based upon their archaic use of language. What we require is for teachers and pastors to engage with their theology and make it relevant to a postmodern world. I am the first to argue that the gospel must be preached contextually, but without diminishing its life giving and transforming power.

We need to heed the insights of Bevan and Kessel (1994:506), ‘worldviews are like sand at a picnic; they get into everything.’ A postmodern worldview can subtly contaminate the preaching of the gospel. Therefore my fear is that due to a postmodern worldview, the church is in danger of diluting the gospel to such an extent that it’s stripped of its power to transform the human soul. We cannot exchange the glory and power of the gospel in order to accommodate a postmodern worldview, which believes that there are no absolute truths. Absorbing a postmodern worldview will steer the church away from the central tenants of the gospel: repentance from sin; faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ; redemption from sin and guilt and reconciliation to the Father.

This is precisely what Capps (1993:1) argues when he writes, ‘…sin has not been a central topic of interest within the pastoral care and counselling field.’[1] Capps goes on to argue that pastors and counselors are more caught up with their parishioners’ problems in their psychodynamic context. When pastors and counselors do this parishioners will be viewed less as sinners rebelling against the laws of God and human nature, and more as victims, caught in a complex set of personal circumstances and psychosocial conditions over which they may exercise only limited influence and control (1993:1).

In other words, sin must be called sin and the solutions applied from Scripture. The Puritans on the other hand, challenged their people to repent of known sin and to follow the Scriptural way of life. In fact, when their people came to seek their counsel they would probe first of all to see if the person was truly converted. Today pastors and counselors will skirt around sin issues and concentrate on the parishioner’s psychodynamic context.[2] The danger the church faces is falling into a therapeutic counselling mode that relegates sin to nothing more than psychological problems. Such an approach places psychology above the centrality of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. [3]

Thus far I have argued that the church cannot embrace a postmodern worldview, and must engage with the theology of the Puritans to disciple strong believers in the truth of the gospel. As we shall see in the coming months the Puritans preached a healthy biblical diet which resulted in transforming the church, society and politics.

In conclusion we need to pay attention to Packer’s (1991:24) assessment of the church today. ‘Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs…A much traveled leader, a native American has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-orientated, self-indulgent…to be 3000 miles wide and an inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants.’[4]

The great revivalist evangelist George Whitefield wrote of them as follows: ‘Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross; the Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this no doubt that made the Puritans…such burning and shinning lights. When cast out by the Black Bartholomew-act (the 1662 Act of Uniformity) and driven from their respective charges to preach inn barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in an especial manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak; a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour….’[5]


[1] Capps, D 1993. The Depleted Self. Sin in a Narcissistic Age. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

[2] My view may sound pessimistic and my approach overtly sin focused. However my starting point for defining humanity is from an anthropological view, where human beings are primarily created in the image of God, but due to their fallen state they require redemption through Jesus Christ.

[3] I must stress that I am not against psychology. I did my Masters dissertation on ‘A Hermeneutical Approach To Promissiotherapy In Existential Issues,’ where I argued for the use of biblical counseling and psychological approaches in treating the patient suffering from anxiety, despair and guilt. For those interested in the relationship between biblical counseling and psychology I refer you to: McMinn, M.R & Philips. T.R (eds.) 2001. Care For The Soul. Exploring the Intersection of Psychology and Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Packer, J.I 1991. Among God’s Giants. The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications.

[5] George Whitefield. Works. London, 1771, IV:30f.

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Comments on: "Part 2: Building a Case for a Puritan Theology in a Postmodern World" (3)

  1. Another great post. I look forward to following your blog. Thank you, brother!

    Jim

  2. Hi Rich,
    Enjoyed your posts on Puritan theology. I used the material as a discussion point at growth group. we went way over our alloted time. it was good to hear that we all agreed with your sentiments – the subject matter stirred & challenged us. A well written and easy to read piece. It was a good platform off which we reflected on some of the Great’s of old and where we are in our walk.
    Regards
    Tony

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